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Knowledge to Action Projects 2018: travel policies, overfishing, flood management and biodiversity loss
Published 29 October 2018
An examination of the travel policy in Malmö municipality, flood management solutions in local neighborhoods, lobbying and regulation in Denmark, and biodiversity policies for universities. These were some of 2018 Knowledge to Action Projects – the course where LUMES students get to apply their knowledge to real world problems.
Chad Boda and David O’Byrne, teachers at LUMES, say that for many students, the Knowledge-to-Action course stands out as one of the most challenging and rewarding learning experiences at LUMES. They think this has to do with the fact that the whole course is student led, from start to finish, although the teachers offer guidance and support throughout the projects.
– They choose the problem, frame it, and decide how to lead the work. They also communicate the project to the people they need to work with says Chad Boda, researcher at LUCSUS.
To be able to do this well, the students draw on the sustainability knowledge gained in other LUMES courses. They need this, the teachers, say, to be able to move from the abstract theory to practical cases.
– We want them to understand that if you are to solve or tackle a problem, you need to have a deep understanding of it. If you have the theory, you can approach it in a different way, says David O’Byrne, researcher at LUCSUS.
Since the course is student led, many come away from it with a whole new range of practical and theoretical skills. They learn by both thinking and doing.
– As a student, you learn communication skills, interpersonal skills and project and time management. You learn to theorise the problem. You also come away with a realistic understanding that it can be very difficult to solve sustainability challenges in the real world, says David O’Byrne.
This year, some students decided to use the Sustainable Development Goals as a frame work for their choice of projects. That meant that they choose to focus on sustainability challenges such as biodiversity, life below water, and sustainable cities.
Selection of Knowledge to Action Course Projects 2018
Travel Policy of Malmö Municipality
Problem: A large portion of carbon emissions from the Malmö municipality comes from business travels, which need to be reduced if Malmö is to reach its ambitious carbon emissions reduction goals.
“We looked at how the travel policy of Malmö municipality compared to staff’s actual travels. The current travel policy states that employees should choose the means of travel with the lowest environmental impact. Furthermore, flying is currently permitted if you save three hours or more compared to other means of transportation.
We looked at flights taken between Malmö and Stockholm during 2015. During this year, there were 3000 flights in total. At the end of our research project, we sat down and presented the results for the environmental management department at the municipality and they were really interested in what we had to say. Despite what the employees thought was the case, they hardly saved one hour total when flying to Stockholm, and actually lost working hours in the process (because one can work productively on the train for nearly the entire trip, which is not the case with flying).
We think that they could save lot of emissions, and do something good for the environment with some small steps such as integrating their digital travel system with the policy. Today the travel system is set up as to be counter intuitive to the travel policy.
For example, when you come to the webpage of the travel system you are able to book a flight for places that you should take the train to. Also, the first travel option that you can choose is flying. You actually have to click through to get to the option to choose the train. We think that this set up is not helping staff in making the right decisions. We feel that this project was received very well; the environmental department is going to use this report in their internal organisation. That shows that you can make an impact with the Knowledge to Action project.”
Participating students: Tyko Berglund Ager, Rasmus Bjerring Larsen, Ellen Putri Edita, René Inderbitzin, Victoria Jepson.
Corporate Watch Dog
“We worked with range of different civil society actors in our project that focused on the overrepresentation of business interests in Danish parliamentary politics. We wanted to raise awareness around this issue since there is no regulation and very little transparency around corporate lobbying in Denmark. We worked with three different groups to start a dialogue, discussing broad alliance building and supporting them in their work to highlight this issue in their respective fields. They are now applying for funding to officially establish a corporate watch dog, that will do research and monitoring of corporate lobbyism activities as well as campaigning.
What we learnt: That transdisciplinary research is possible, and that it can have an impact. We were able to contribute through research that shed light on the issue of lobbying as a common structural challenge for the different civil society organisations, and by initiating and facilitating a process, which they then took ownership over. We learnt throughout the process. Since the ball got rolling so fast with the organisations, we sometimes had to assert our role as sustainability science students.”
Participating students: Alice Kasznar Feghali, Katalin Lakatos and Louise Maria Skotte Møller.
Overfishing in Denmark
Problem: The lack of sustainability in the Danish fishing industry driven by EU policies and economic interests
“We focused on Denmark since they are one of the top countries when it comes to overfishing in Europe. They are not heeding scientific advice, since growth and business interest shape the fishing industry. We worked a lot with a non-governmental organisation called Oceana that shared our understanding of the problem with overfishing. But, as we worked with the project we learnt that it is very hard to make an impact if we want to change fishing quotas at government or EU levels. We learnt a lot about how institutions work - and how we can start to go about creating an impact.”
“Lund University owns 1700ha of land around Lund. This is rented out to farmers, often for one-year contracts. There is currently no formal requirements for the farmers that they have to work with biodiversity. We think that there should regulations or financial incentives, so that farmers feel the need to engage in biodiversity conservation, for example, to plant flower strips on their land.
It was an interesting project. The people we spoke to at the University who are responsible for leasing the lands had never been approached around this issue before, and they were happy to talk to us. But they were not a in a position to enforce or bring in any regulations around biodiversity.
Overall, we learnt that societal structures can make it very hard to change things, and it is very hard to change things fast too. At times it felt very frustrating since we reached many dead ends. We spoke to various people but we couldn’t really create any change.
So, in the end our project came to focus on our work process: how did we structure our work, and where did we end up?”
Participating students: Annemarie Russ, Iris Hertog and Annika Kettenburg.
“We looked at a neighborhood in Malmö called Sofielund. We were interested in examining how and if you could apply some of the flood management solutions used in other areas of the city, such as Augustenborg, in Sofielund. In Augustenborg, there are many green solutions to improve flood management such as green roofs and open green spaces. There are also open ditches where the water can gather during rain fall.
But during this project, we found that it is not so easy to copy the solutions used in one area to another area, even though the neighborhoods are in the same city. The main reason in this instance was that the geography of the places is very different, with Sofielund being low lying. This means that the rain will affect the area more even if you create more green spaces. There is also the question of what companies are responsible for the housing. In Augustenborg it is one building company, MKB, which makes it easier to introduce and plan changes, but in Sofielund there are more than 20 property owners responsible for the housing; the social structure is different.
We think that the municipality or the housing associations have to explain the realities of living in the area to the residents: that it can be affected negatively if there are heavy rains. That will make the inhabitants more prepared to deal with any floods.”
Participating students: Yue Chen, San Dra, and Laura Betancur Alarcón.
The course gives deeper knowledge of sustainability science and the role of transdisciplinarity in understanding and leading to sustainable societal transitions.
The course concentrates on learning opportunities that expose students to real-world settings with societal actors such as municipalities, organisations, companies and/or communities where students actively partake in the design, implementation and evaluation of a project.